In Memoriam: Eliot Wirshbo

(Written by Donald Lateiner, acknowledging gratefully the help, research, and energy of the following people in compiling this SCS memorial: Natalie Wirshbo, Greg Bucher, Brad Cook, Kerri Hame, Nick Genovese, Robert Eisner, Page duBois, and June Allison. Rosaria Munson and Joe Patwell also offered observations. E. Marianne Gabel captured the photograph below on the left at Le Trou Normand during the 2016 SCS meetings in San Francisco. Natalie Wirshbo provided the photograph on the right)

ELIOT WIRSHBO. 24 January 1948--19 July 2019.

Parents: Nathan and Peggy Wirshbo.

Education: Hunter College BA 1968, University of Pennsylvania PhD 1976.

Positions: San Diego State University 1977-1979, Ohio State University 1979-82, lecturer (eventually tenured) at University of California San Diego, Department of Literature 1982-2019.

Dissertation: "Attitudes toward the past in Homer and Hesiod," 1976, directed by Martin Ostwald.

Publications: “On mistranslating Vergil Aen. 1.203,” CW 73.3 (1979) 177-178.

“Lesbia, a mock hypocorism?” CPh 75.1 (1980) 70-71.

 "The Mekone Scene in the Theogony: Prometheus as Prankster," GRBS 23.2 (1982) 101-110.

“Can emotions be determined from words?” American Behavioral Scientist 33.3 (1990) 287-96.

"On Critically Looking into Snell's Homer," in Nomodeiktes: Greek Studies in Honor of Martin Ostwald, ed. R. Rosen and J. Farrell (Ann Arbor 1993) 467-77.

“Verbal Behavior in the Iliad,” in Kinesis, The Ancient Depiction of Gesture, Motion, and Emotion, Essays in Honor of Donald Lateiner (2015) 219-34.

Eliot Wirshbo was born in a Brooklyn snowstorm and raised in the Bronx. He came to classics accidentally, by a foreign language requirement, but came to love the subject fiercely. His graduate education was interrupted after one year by the military draft (1969-72). He served with valor as a medic for two years in the US Army in Viet Nam. His teaching style was acerbic and intensely personal. He had mixed emotions about publication and was proud of his minimal scholarly output, a page per year of teaching, as he phrased it. Although he never was granted tenure by his department, and enjoyed no leaves, he enjoyed the functional equivalent of tenure at UC San Diego where he both delighted and infuriated students by his unique teaching style, including jokes and meticulous demands (v. infra). They loved or hated his punctilious demand for accuracy. He put tremendous energy into his teaching, although his superiors often limited his courses to elementary language courses and literature courses in translation.  He loved, however, all the teaching he did. His wife Dr. Chris Norris, also a jazz singer, predeceased him in 1998. He is survived by his daughter Natalie whom he raised as a single parent.

An anonymous student’s view found on the WWW: “I took him for the entire lower division sequence, and now again every quarter for the upper division courses. He’s basically the entire reason why I went from taking Latin to fill a GE to also learning Ancient Greek and majoring in Classical Studies. Any class with him is going to be hard (I adore the guy but his exams are torture), but the upper division courses are extremely fun. We’re doing Ovid this quarter and half the time we just talk about whatever odd tangent he goes off on. Sorry, I absolutely buy into the cult of Wirshbo ....”

Kerri Hame, another former student on beginning Greek and Latin with Wirshbo: “He was present, both in and outside the classroom, to educate and to work with students. Eliot also had such a clever sense of humor that I couldn't help but laugh and learn at the same time. He was a reluctant (his word) mentor, but he showed me how to teach Greek and Latin in an effective and engaging way, and I tried to emulate his model when I became a Classics professor. I am so grateful for the gift of knowing him.”

Greg Bucher, another former student, writes: “I flailed away at Greek twice before passing it [when in graduate school]. One summer Eliot and I met weekly in a (I think) Carl’s Junior restaurant near his house so that we could read (are you ready for this) the Cratylus. That was the etymologizer in evidence, and I just said “whatever” since I needed practice with a good reader. That was perhaps the highest brow thing that was ever done in that restaurant. ... I have always loudly proclaimed, most recently on Facebook, that I would never have gone on to graduate school without his example, his demonstration that an academic could be a regular guy, and his support. We were never close enough that he seemed like a father figure to me, and he was too old to be a brother, but he was certainly, from my point of view, a close friend even when we didn’t see each other much. I expressed to him very fully how much I owed him (to his very embarrassed tut-tutting) as a person when we last saw each other in San Francisco. He, for me, was “that teacher”: the one that made the difference. ...“He would talk endlessly about his own life, especially if the story came back to redound against him. He reveled in the title “grammar nazi”, which some student had leveled at him. His indignation over poor teaching of Language could get him going easily.”

A former colleague tactfully observed: “I fear most of my anecdotes of Eliot wouldn't really fit an obituary for SCS and had little to do with Classics. However, he was a naturally inspiring teacher who captivated the 650 students we typically had in the Mythology course.”

Eliot published little by choice. His philological article on emotions in verbal responses, based on his Viet Nam experiences, reflects his skeptical attitude towards the possibility of understanding other people. His Lesbia article reflects his interest in the philology of sex. He gave a well-received lecture in 2017on the topic of hypallage in Vergil’s Aeneid that he hoped to publish. He allegedly was developing at his death a manuscript on “The History of Dawdling”. I am not sure whether this was a joke or real. He preferred the give and take of dialogue and was a regular member of the UCSD Greek and Latin Philosophy Reading Group. Having read Sardonic Smile in manuscript, he suggested that instead of “downward avoidance behavior,” the author should have written “duck.” He scorned those who published so as not to perish, considering most contributions a waste of the teacher’s time and his or her reader’s effort. At the time of his unexpected and untimely death, he was reading and translating Seneca’s letter with a friend. We shall never see the likes of Eliot Wirshbo, because there never will be a “like.” How many classicists keep a regulation-size pommel horse in their living room? He dubbed himself a “walking oxymoron.”

    

---

(Photo: "Candle" by Shawn Carpenter, licensed under CC BY 2.0)   

Categories

Follow SCS News for information about the SCS and all things classical.

Use this field to search SCS News
Select a category from this list to limit the content on this page.

In The New York Times on April 5, David Brooks asks a fundamental question: “What is a university for?” (“The Practical University”, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/05/opinion/Brooks-The-Practical-University.html?ref=davidbrooks&_r=0).  In answering, he distinguishes between “two sorts of knowledge, what the philosopher Michael Oakeshott called technical knowledge and practical knowledge”.  Basically, “technical knowledge” is “the sort of knowledge you need to understand a task”, “like the recipes in a cookbook”, whereas “practical knowledge” is a kind of “practical moral wisdom”, absorbed rather than memorized, acquired and sustained through practice.  According to Brooks, the online revolution in education will have its main effect in the domain of “technical knowledge”, and the real “future of the universities is in practical knowledge”. 

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Mon, 04/15/2013 - 7:56pm by Adam Blistein.

The program for the 2013 edition of the Symposium Cumanum (June 25-27) has been set. If you would like to attend please use the link below. One can also send queries to
charles.gladhill@mcgill.ca
.

http://www.vergiliansociety.org/symposium_cumanum/

“Aeneid Six and Its Cultural Reception”

Villa Vergiliana, Cumae and the University of Naples Federico II, Italy
June 25-27

Sponsored by The Vergilian Society, Harry Wilks Study Center,  Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici University of Naples Federico  II,   British Virgil Society, McGill University,
Accademia Virgiliana di Mantova.

Program

June 24

Cocktails (7:00pm) and Dinner (7:30pm)

June 25

Breakfast (7:30 am)

Greetings and Introduction (9:30-1030)

Session one (10:30-11:45): Pasts of Aeneid Six

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Mon, 04/15/2013 - 2:35pm by .

The deadline for all submissions to the APA Program Committee except individual abstracts is this Friday, April 12, at 5:00 pm Eastern Time.  (The individual abstract deadline is Wednesday, May 1.)  To make a submission you must be an APA member in good standing for 2013 and create an account at this year's APA program submission system.  Please note these important items.

1.  You must create an account on the program submission system.  It does not automatically contain an account you may have created on the APA's members' only page or on the placement system site. 

2.  The program submission system will not permit you to create an account if you are not in good standing.  If you have not yet paid dues for 2013, and you want to make a submission by the April 12 deadline, you must pay your dues by the close of business tomorrow, Wednesday, April 10 and then wait until Friday, April 12, to make your program submission.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Tue, 04/09/2013 - 9:33pm by Adam Blistein.

The New York Times has just published an article on Nuntii Latini the weekly newscast in Latin produced by the Finnish Broadcasting Company.

View full article. | Posted in Classics in the News on Tue, 04/09/2013 - 4:51pm by Adam Blistein.

The International Plutarch Society announces its 10th international congress , to be held on the topic SPACE, TIME AND LANGUAGE IN PLUTARCH’S VISIONS OF GREEK CULTURE: INTROVERSION, IMPERIAL COSMOPOLITANISM AND OTHER FORMS OF INTERACTION WITH THE PAST AND PRESENT. The conference, organized by the University of Patras, will take place at the European Cultural Centre in Delphi, 16-18 May, 2014. For more information contact: Aristoula Georgiadou (University of Patras) ageorgia.gm@gmail.com or Katerina Oikonomopoulou (Humboldt University of Berlin) katerina.oikonomopoulou@gmail.com. See the pdf for more information).

View full article. | Posted in Conferences, Lectures, and Meetings on Fri, 04/05/2013 - 3:54pm by .

On behalf of Ruth Scodel:

With great sadness we announce the untimely death of Kathryn Bosher, from metastatic lung cancer.  Kathryn came to Michigan from the University of Toronto in 1998 and finished her PhD in 2006.  She was an assistant professor at Northwestern and was going to start a new position at OSU in August 2013.

Kate’s great love was the theater, and the center of her scholarly work was the Greek theater in Sicily and Magna Graecia.  In 2012 she published Theatre Outside Athens:  drama in South Italy and Sicily, proceedings of a conference she organized at Northwestern.  Nobody who saw the production of Aristophanes’ Assemblywomen that she directed for the 2008 Feminism and Classics conference will forget it.

Nobody who had the good fortune to know her will forget her kindness, joy in life, and modesty.  She could even seem diffident, but she had the drive to row in national competitions in single sculls, and her scholarly arguments were energetic as well as thoughtful.  We will miss her, and we offer our deepest condolences to her husband Dale and her young son Ernest.

View full article. | Posted in In Memoriam on Thu, 03/28/2013 - 12:54pm by .

APA Member, Christopher B. Krebs, Stanford University, has won Phi Beta Kappa's Christian Gauss Award for his work Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus’s Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich.  Phi Beta Kappa has given the Gauss Award since 1950 for books in the field of literary scholarship and criticism. 

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Thu, 03/21/2013 - 2:01pm by Adam Blistein.

The Department of Classics at the University of California Berkeley reports with sadness the death of Charles Murgia.

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Fri, 03/08/2013 - 7:48pm by Adam Blistein.

There has been a lot of talk in the US recently about the importance of encouraging the study of the so-called STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).  In the UK, the civil service has long been advocating such an emphasis on STEM, although it is revealing that in the US people still tend to focus on whether this or that education is a good “investment” for the individual, whereas in Britain the government agencies are more concerned with which education is best for society as a whole (on “investment” as the wrong metaphor in the first place, see Bob Connor’s recent post).

View full article. | Posted in SCS Announcements on Wed, 03/06/2013 - 8:40pm by Adam Blistein.

Pages

Latest Stories

In Memoriam
The following obituary is reposted from legacy.com.
Awards and Fellowships
The National Humanities Center invites applications for academic-year or one-

© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy